The New Role of Marketing in Healthcare Organisations

Healthcare organisations, hospitals and the like have long believed that the role of the Marketing function in their organisation is limited to organising health camps, CME’s and marketing communication, mostly of the ‘below the line’ variety. Thus the patient information literature that you see in your hospital is largely the doing of the marketing folks, who usually download the basic material from the net, rewrite some of it to make it suitable for their hospital, get the advertising agency to do a layout as per the hospital brand guidelines, get the doctors to approve the medical content and send it for printing. Marketing folks also organise a couple of advertisements usually when the hospital wishes to announce a new celebrity doctor or a new ‘state of the art equipment’, ‘which the hospital acquires. Now lest you misunderstand, this piece is not meant to disparage the role of the marketing folks in a hospital, on the contrary, I believe they have a much greater role to play than customarily assigned to them.

The Marketing function in a hospital has surely to be much more than this. I believe the Marketing team in the hospital must play a critical role in customer engagement. Now you may wonder, if the marketers were to do this, than what would medical folks do? Aren’t they the ones tasked with the responsibility of patient care? Thus, here we must make the distinction between patient care and customer care, which is critical for a hospital. Patient care is the medical care provided to patients in a hospital, which of course is the domain of the doctors, nurses and other medical staff in the hospital. Customer care on the other hand is the sum total of care that hospitals need to deliver to the patient and his attendants, at all the points, where the hospital engages with the customer. In a hospital, the elements of customer care include customer interactions over the phone, on the website, through an advertisement,  at the front office, at the billing counters, at the nursing counters, in patient rooms, in doctor’s consult rooms, in the waiting areas, in the cafeterias… really anywhere that the patient or their attendants interact with the hospital.

Most hospitals realise that their biggest asset is a satisfied customer. However, many still believe that a good medical outcome is perhaps the surest way of ensuring a patient’s loyalty. Unfortunately, the modern day patients are far more demanding to be satisfied with just a good medical outcome. In fact, many believe that a positive medical outcome for most procedures and surgeries is a given. What they are really looking for is a great hospital experience, which includes an a lot more than an expected medical outcome. Since, a lot of people still choose a hospital or a doctor based on advise from friends and family, a great customer experience becomes an essential marketing tool.  

Let me illustrate the point with a few recent experiences that I have had at Max Healthcare in New Delhi. My father has been battling an oral cancer, and was undergoing radiation therapy at the hospital. Much of the last month I took him to the hospital in the morning everyday. I had requested the hospital to give me a slot early in the morning so that I could go to work later in the day. The hospital obliged without a fuss. Now the General Duty Assistants (GDA’s), who usually wheel patients to the radiation areas report to work at around 8 in the morning and thus I would happily wheel my father over. Imagine, my utter surprise, when the security personnel at the hospital’s gate refused to allow me to do this chore and insisted that he would gladly do it. This was not a one-off, this happened everyday that we went there. A small incident in a hospital’s busy day, but it made all the difference to us, we felt welcomed and cared for. Similarly, many a times in the morning as I waited for my father to finish radiation, I was offered a cup of tea by the staff on duty in the radiation area. Again a small matter, but done instinctively and always with a smile. The fact that I remember these small incidents and write about them here, is excellent marketing for the hospital.

A busy hospital delivers thousands of these experiences every day. Each of them is delivered by individuals, who come from different backgrounds, socio-economic strata, having very differing educational backgrounds, yet they are united at work in aiming to deliver a great customer experience at the hospital. Each of these experiences must exceed customer expectations for them to talk about the hospital and its services.

Many a times a customer experience is delivered even when the customer has not walked into the hospital. These are just as important and include, the effectiveness and ease of handling of the hospital website when the log on to it, the efficiency and knowledge of the telephone operator when they call the hospital and the response of the hospital when in an emergency.

I believe in a new age hospital, the Marketing team must be the custodian of all customer experiences. It should work closely with the hospital operations team in defining the customer engagement paradigm and help them in delivering great customer experiences. The marketing team should have a single goal, to excel in delivering a great customer experience at all customer touch points, whether in the hospital, in the virtual world or outside of the hospital.